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January Issue

Vol 24|No 3|January 2015

Great Research

by Jamie McKenzie (about author)


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By Jamie McKenzie, ©2015, all rights reserved.
About author

A really great research project will demand original thought.

Mere scooping and collection of information will not suffice.

The project must be built around a question or an issue whose answer does not lie waiting on a Web page. This is not a scavenger hunt. Nor is it trivial pursuit.


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Students must make answers. The research is like a shopping trip to find the raw ingredients that will be chopped up and combined to cook a great stew or sauce. Cooking should involve more than heating up "store bought" dishes in the microwave.

Students as Infotectives

The first step toward a sound research program is to think of students as infotectives.

What is an infotective? A student thinker capable of asking great questions about data (with analysis) in order to convert the data into information (data organized so as to reveal patterns and relationships) and eventually into insight (information that may suggest action or strategy of some kind).

An infotective solves information puzzles with a combination of inference skills and new technologies. The problem solving that often follows the detective work requires synthesis (invention) and evaluation (careful choices from lists of options). An infotective is a skilled thinker, researcher and inventor.

Infotective is a term designed for education in an Age of Information. In the smokestack school, teachers imparted meanings for students to digest, memorize and regurgitate. In Information Age schools, students make the meaning. They puzzle their way through piles of fragments - sorting, sifting, weighing and arranging them until a picture emerges.


These same skills produce high performance on the increasingly challenging state tests of reading comprehension and problem solving. As state standards require more and more inferential reasoning, state tests are asking students to "create answers" rather than "find answers."


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For decades, schools showed students basic problem patterns and asked them to memorize solutions. This approach will no longer suffice. Students are expected to handle the unexpected and the unfamiliar.

Infotectives perform well on demanding comprehension tests, but they also make the kind of workers and family members we need to face the challenges of the next decade and beyond. (Note: this section first appeared in "Grazing the Net: Raising a Generation of Free Range Students."

Not knowing what you do not know

When research centers on challenging questions and issues, the student usually does not know enough at the outset to plan the research. Unlike topical research, investigations built around mysteries, problems and conundrums require an exploration stage at the beginning so the student can begin to grasp the scope and the complexity of the issue at hand.

The student progresses through the steps of the Research Cycle.


    (*Reporting comes after several repetitions of the cycle create sufficient INSIGHT)

Research Cycle


Stages in the Research Cycle
(repeated until understanding is fully developed)
research cycleresearch cycleresearch cycleresearch cycle
1. Questioning Researcher starts with an essential question and then develops a rich mind map of all related questions that might help to guide subsequent research.
2. Planning Researcher thinks strategically about where to look, how to store findings and how to optimize results. Asks for support, advice and suggestions.
3. Gathering Researcher collects information that relates to the questions asked earlier, screening to emphasize relevance and pertinence.
4. Sorting
& Sifting
Researcher moves information around so that it goes where it fits. Findings are stored by categories, issues and questions.
5. Synthesizing Researcher seeks insight by considering the information from the perspective of the essential question. Ideas and information are combined and recombined in various ways to cast light on the issue at hand. Like pieces of a jigsaw puzzle, they are rearranged until a picture emerges.
6. Evaluating Researcher takes a look at findings and considers the adequacy of the discovery and invention process. Are pieces missing? Are there weaknesses? inadequacies? unknowns? holes in the logic or the evidence?
research cycle
Researcher goes back through the stages again and again until important new insights are developed and substantiated fully.
-------------> Reporting After several extensive cycles through the stages above, once important new insights are developed and substantiated fully, the researcher proceeds to the sharing of insights, deciding which method of presenting might prove most persuasive and worthwhile.

At this point, the researcher is especially concerned with making findings intelligible by presenting them in a coherent manner.

Finding Great Questions

Ultimately we expect students to learn how to find and pose challenging questions from within the content they are studying in our classes, whether it be biology, history, French or English. It is our hope that they will carry this questioning skill into their lives past schooling.

The following articles from The Question Mark propose many ways to generate intriguing questions:

  1. "Questions of Import" - http://questioning.org/feb2010/import.html
  2. "A Brilliant Question" - http://questioning.org/feb2014/brilliant.html
  3. "Generating Question Families" - http://questioning.org/dec2013/families.html
  4. "A Truly Great Question" - http://questioning.org/Summer2013/great.html
  5. "Replacing Faux Inquiry with the Real Thing" - http://questioning.org/oct2010/faux.html
  6. "Essential Questions" - http://questioning.org/mar05/essential.html
  7. "The Great Question Press" - http://questioning.org/questionpress.html
  8. "A Questioning Toolkit" - http://questioning.org/Q7/toolkit.html

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